Azkaban was dingy. Hermione thought she would have a more profound reaction to the stark grey monolith jutting from the howling sea. But she didn't. The entrance was crusted with salt that crunched underfoot and inside the smell of stale water almost masked the mustiness. She ached to Scourgify the place.
Judging from the expressions of her Auror escort, they agreed. Kingsley had insisted she didn't go alone. The guards in the wizarding prison were all human now but the centuries of despair had etched deeply into the edifice. The very new Minister of Magic had been extremely reluctant to allow her to go at all, even after the Ministry approved her application.
Security at the first gate waved them through after they surrendered their wands. They didn't need to go far, just to the first secure meeting room, but even that short journey left Hermione feeling grubby. Kingsley had been right about the aura of the place. He'd instituted a short duty rotation so none of the guards spent more than six months at a stretch in the prison and no one was barracked on-site.
Anyone who had been exposed to Dark Magic could feel the wrongness of the place. The Dementors' Cradle was the nickname given to Azkaban by the Muggle-borns who had been imprisoned there by the Registration Commission. It was a pity she didn't have clearance to speak with Dolores Umbridge, Hermione thought as she sat in the institutionally uncomfortable visitor's chair. It would be worth making a trip solely to stand before that horrid woman and skite.
Three guards brought Tristan Nott to the meeting room and secured him to the second chair, the only other piece of furniture in the room. He was shackled at wrist and ankle, with a magic dampening collar around his neck. Like all prisoners, he'd had his head shaved after one of the Death Eaters had hanged herself with her own long hair. He still looked proud.
When the guards and the Aurors left, Nott looked mildly interested. He watched her pull a scroll out of a small beaded bag, cross the room and show him the wax seal. The Nott crest. She broke the seal then put the parchment in his hand so he could read it while she returned to her chair. And covertly rubbed her back.
The silence continued as he carefully scanned the letter. It seemed genuine. He recognised his son's writing and his phrasing. Of course, Theodore could be under the Imperius Curse but Tristan had considerable experience with that Unforgivable. He would have to accept that his son had sent this missive, and the witch who delivered it, to him. For his approval, perhaps.
"Theodore is well?" The last time he had seen his son was on the eve of the final battle. Their trials had been separate and he had received no news since being imprisoned.
"He is." Hermione confirmed. The guards were certainly eavesdropping. Kingsley had said the Aurors would give her privacy but if she were in his place, she would've found some discreet way to listen in. "We're doing our NEWTs by correspondence."
"They are well?" Tristan asked the clever witch he had known until moments before solely as Potter's Mudblood. His son hadn't rabbited on. He'd given specific details, such as the document in the locked drawer in Tristan's private desk, and assured him it had been verified thoroughly. If Theodore was intent on obfuscation, he would abide.
"Yes. Lively too." She stood again, bringing over to him a black and white printout and swapping it for the scroll. "It's a little grainy but you can see both of them. Healthy, and due the third week of January." Hermione returned to her seat, putting Theo's letter back in her bag. "You can keep that picture. I had it cleared by the Aurors."
"Because it is a Muggle thing." The powers that be would think that nebulous image was a taunt, a scourge to remind him of what he would never have. But they were wrong. Tristan knew his son, knew how he would turn in on himself and seclude himself from the world. But he couldn't now. He had responsibilities.
"As am I." Hermione pushed up her left sleeve. The modifications Theo had cut into the slur were healing far faster than Bellatrix's work. In a few months they'd be white scratches, like Umbridge's 'I will not break rules' on her right hand. Intent mattered. Just like this carefully choreographed conversation.
The interview she and Theo had given the Prophet would be published soon. Depending on the political blowback, there was no guarantee she would be allowed to visit Azkaban again any time soon. Kingsley had cautioned her to be scrupulous in her conduct during her interview, hence the dance back and forth between the chairs. No physical contact or sympathetic gestures.
"I know exactly what you are." Tristan had only one godchild. He had married late; his school friends had sensibly chosen more settled guardians for their children. Bellatrix had wanted one of the Old Guard, and to convey a calculated message to his young wife about the duties expected of her. Karina had complied speedily. "Had matters been otherwise, my son would have married my god-daughter."
"Theo did wonder who you would have picked for him." She had too. If Nemesia had grown up with her biological parents or as a fosterling of the Malfoys, an arranged marriage with the heir of Nott would have been a good match. "You'll forgive me if I think this way is better."
Tristan said nothing in reply to what would sound like a jibe to the eavesdroppers. There would be sneers later about his boy soiling himself with a Mudblood. The guards were scrupulous about avoiding physical castigation but they were not above taunts. He wouldn't bother correcting them. It was enough that he knew Theodore had done what was expected of him.
"You will sign these." Hermione brought the sheaf of documents Theo had prepared and thrust a fountain pen into the Death Eater's hand. Writing with a quill while manacled was too difficult for the accurate signatures they needed. "I think Theo should have control of the Nott estate, don't you?"
He signed. He agreed, after all. Had he any inkling the Dark Lord would lose to an orphan boy he would have made arrangements for Theodore to become Head of the House. His signet ring had been taken from him so he couldn't add his seal but they'd thought of that and included soft wax for his thumbprint. And thus he abrogated his birthright.
Hermione took the parchments back once he had signed them, stowing them away in her beaded bag. If questioned, she would produce them for inspection but she didn't intend to volunteer. She sat wondering what she could ask that wouldn't cause comment or be awkward to explain if made public. Not much. She wasn't a natural politician. Tristan Nott fortunately was.
"You may tell my son the wheel of fate never ceases to turn. Magic blesses me with a long life. I will see him again." Tristan added a touch of force to his words, to remind her that although the blood traitors and Mudbloods had won this war true wizarding values would persist.
Hermione called the interview to a close. The guards took her father-in-law away and brought her father. Rodolphus Lestrange had five wizards on watch, with the Aurors in the room too until he was fully restrained. Her wand was returned to her for this little chat as no one trusted the Death Eater to behave himself.
When they were alone, Hermione studied him. He was clean shaven like Tristan, with a tan line between cheek and chin where his beard had also been removed. His dark eyes stared unseeing, disconcertingly remote. She didn't wonder what he was thinking. She was sure she didn't want to know.
"Muffliato." Hermione cast the spell. It wasn't well known so it wasn't explicitly forbidden within Azkaban. Probably would be next time. "I thought about keeping quiet. You certainly don't deserve any consideration from me. But this isn't about you." She paused for breath. "I'm your daughter Nemesia."
There was no reaction. Not a blink, not a twitch. Rodolphus sat unmoving, staring at nothing. Hermione had to admit she would've liked some response. Even shouting obscenities. But he'd spent fourteen years with Dementors. Whatever was left inside him possibly couldn't do more than drive his body around and keep it alive to hate.
"I don't expect you to believe me. Hell knows I didn't at first. But I'm on the Black Tapestry now and..." She stopped when he blinked.
"She's dead." He said hoarsely.
"The people who took me used blood magic to hide me." Hermione was not going to tell a fanatic who was responsible for the abduction of his only child. She didn't want him coming after Regulus and Andromeda. She wanted him to stay thoroughly locked up where he couldn't hurt anyone. "They Obliviated themselves so they couldn't reveal where I was."
"She's dead." He repeated, gaze still unfocussed.
"Do you want her to be?" The question was soft, accompanied by the thought that she could discard all her misgivings about being a Lestrange with a simple confirmation. Regulus wanted her to disavow her connection to her paternal relatives. Her sons would still have a claim once they were of age but until then this problem didn't have to exist.
Rodolphus continued to stare. Hermione said the words, sealing her oath with the tap of her wand. It was more a legalism than magic, the same as a statutory declaration for Muggles. She had to say it in front of him. He didn't have to acknowledge the statement. Which he didn't. Dropping the Muffliato, Hermione called for the guards.
She went home to the Longhouse. Theo had considered refurbishing various Nott properties but an extensive family history of Dark Magic had made nearly all of the homes he owned unsuitable. So he had built a new one, in the style of the longhouses of his Viking ancestors, in an oak grove. A clean, quiet place where they could both rest.
While their new home was much smaller than Nott Manor, Theo had indulged. Their bathroom reminded Hermione of an onsen, complete with heated granite stones. She slid into the bath to rid herself of the residual greasy uncleanness from the prison. Sitting shoulder deep in warm water, Hermione conjured bubbles, concentrating on getting the iridescence just right as a means of pushing all her other swirling thoughts aside.
When Theo ducked his head into the bathroom it was full of floating, shimmering filmy shapes. He poked one with a fingertip and it popped with a pleasant chiming note. Clearing his way to the soaking pool caused a tinkling symphony. Still in his cloak, he sat on the stone edge as his wife flicked her wand.
"Balloon animals are easy but when I try for something less cartoonish the surface tension starts fighting back." Hermione informed him as an elaborate bubble shaped like Gryffindor Tower popped. "Colours are relatively simple. Corners not so much."
"How did your meeting go?" Theo asked, interpreting from her careful explanation of the bubble experiment that her trip to Azkaban had been mentally taxing.
"Your father signed everything. I gave him the ultrasound picture. He seemed quite healthy. We exchanged sneers." She sighed and levitated the beaded bag onto his lap. "He said fairly ominously that you would see each other again."
"And Rodolphus?" He hadn't wanted his wife to visit her father. Lestrange hadn't been stable. From what he had heard of the man before his first stint in prison, he had been a fervent blood purist. His family had suffered during the Muggles' first and second world wars. Rodolphus had wanted to punish them and had found an able helpmate in Bellatrix.
"He said four words to me in total." Hermione stabbed her wand into a large bubble. It burst with a trill. "Two words twice, to be exact. He took a lot of spell damage in the Battle. I don't think anyone is home."
"And you feel guilty about that." Theo ventured, dipping his hand in the water to catch a bubble on his palm. It stayed for a moment before popping with a 'ping' distinct in the silence.
"Yes." She answered eventually. "I don't regret him being in prison. I'm relieved. He is a vicious murderer. But I felt like I was kicking him when he was down. Twisting the knife." Hermione frowned, waving her wand to dispel all the floating shapes quietly. "I still did it. Renounced him. I doubt he even knew what I was talking about."
"If the future had been otherwise and Death Eaters had won, Lestrange would have cut your throat on Tom's order. Even knowing you were his child wouldn't have stopped him." The Lestranges' commitment to the Dark Lord had never wavered. Azkaban had annealed their loyalty not broken it. Theo was certain.
"So I should shrug and walk away, whistling merrily?" Hermione splashed angrily out of the tepid water, rinsing herself with a spell. Theo offered a hand to help her out of the bath then kept hold of it when she was standing secure.
"I can't tell you what to feel or what to not feel." He kissed her softly. "I can say the life I want for our sons doesn't include Rodolphus Lestrange as their grandfather." Theo handed her a bathrobe. "With which I expect you agree entirely."
"Entirely." She pulled on the robe, belting it high over her stomach and holding it closed with a Sticking Charm. "One of the drawbacks of not being a vicious bitch is I don't get off on hurting people."
"For which I am thankful." Theo smiled. "Have you eaten?"
"Not yet. I was waiting for you." Hermione padded out into the bedroom to wear another borrowed robe. She wasn't third trimester yet but she had expanded beyond the capacity of all her clothes except her yoga pants, and even they were more 'not falling off' than worn. "How was Henrik?"
"Patient." He shed his cloak and jacket, loosening his tie. The meeting with his adoptive father had been formal. "Nyyrikki told the Varinens we had disappeared into the mists and would return in time." In the privacy of his bedroom, Theo felt able to make the face he had wanted to make when he had first heard the Horned God's assurance. He had not been amused. "So they've been counting the days."
"Did they reinstate your mother?" She asked, watching his expression closely. He looked composed. Matter-of-fact. Which answered her question before he did.
"Henrik meant to do so. He wrote his brother immediately after we left. Teuvo did not reply. He wrote again the year Mother would come of age, so she would have the option to choose the Covenant if she wished." Theo's voice was even, uninflected. He was pleased to hear the smoothness of his tone.
"Your mum married when she was seventeen. The week after her birthday, I think you said." Hermione kept her words bland, seeking confirmation before she got angry too.
"Teuvo rushed the match so she couldn't join the Covenant. He packed her off to my father as soon as legally possible." His outrage leaked out in his sibilants. He stopped to breathe and regain his calm. "Henrik said he would have written to his niece directly when he heard she'd had a son, but by then Maaret was pregnant with a boy. The Varinens were furious at the idea Teuvo's child would be acknowledged. More than furious. Aksel had a heart attack and Maaret nearly miscarried."
"So to keep the peace, he didn't write to your mum?" She asked and he nodded. "Did you tell him about the twins?" Theo shook his head, unwilling to risk speaking again until he was sure he wouldn't spit curses. "Right. Good." Hermione took a breath and hugged her husband. "To Hell with them."
"I love you, Sekhmet." Theo murmured. The lion headed goddess of war and healing seemed a very good title for his fierce wife. She laughed, holding him closer.
"We'll be fine." Hermione reassured. "We don't need them. We don't have to do a damn thing until the boys are adults." She would pay her debts and present her sons to Nyyrikki so they could choose to join to Covenant. If neither opted for it then she would skip happily back to England, never to give it another thought.
"I'm still Henrik's heir." He didn't want to ruin her ebullient mood but he couldn't disregard his mother's family completely. "Maaret's son is younger than I am. Her sister has a boy too. They're both of age, just." Henrik had not seemed keen to push his nephews into the Covenant early. "I'm still next in line. Direct primogeniture."
"Let's wish Henrik a long, healthy life, then." She said with more determination than cheer. With Theo the heir, there was a bare minimum they would need to provide. As much as Hermione would prefer otherwise, that unfortunately would include notifying the Varinens about the birth of the twins.
When the time came, Theo sent the slowest owl he could find.
Hermione had already been comfortably ensconced in St Mungo's for two weeks when she went into labour on the 31st of December. Her Healer had recommended bed-rest once she reached thirty four weeks gestation as the twins were both active and large, and fast running out of room. Nott elves and Black elves competed to serve the young Mistress, much to her irritation.
"They hover." Hermione complained to her mother when the midwife returned to cast yet more obstetric charms. She breathed in sharply as the pain briefly returned in full force when the matronly witch rubbed out the sigils on her belly before redrawing them. "How long until I can push?"
"Any moment now, Madam Nott." The midwife used her best 'talking to the agitated' voice. While the pregnant witch was more inquisitive than fretful, and never stopped asking questions, she much preferred when her patients regarded childbirth as a sacred ritual rather than a Transfiguration class. "The Healer will be along once the monitoring spells have stabilised."
"She reminds me of the nuns we had at school." Margaret Granger remarked once the robed woman had whisked out of the room. "A great many non-answers meant to soothe away inconvenient curiosity." She shifted in the comfortable chair beside the bed and held her daughter's hand. "What do those runes mean?"
The question was deliberately airy. It had taken weeks before Dr Granger could be in the same room as the young woman who had been her daughter without feeling a tsunami of resentment. Most of that was shock and the rest was unanswered questions. When Hermione had found out who had been responsible for the cruel substitution and brought the damnably unrepentant pair to see the Grangers, Margaret had made a decision.
She wasn't going to let those people take another child from her. Their daughter shouldn't have transported them like convicts to Australia. There had been words about that. But in doing so she had brought to light a truth that explained so many of the little worries and discrepancies she'd noticed. Things she had ascribed to her little girl being a witch had turned out to be otherwise.
William was still having a hard time rebuilding his reality. He had thrown himself back into the practice and spent long hours at the clinic. The other Dr Granger had come to visit Hermione only once since she had gone into hospital as the subtle wrongness of the place put him off. However, he had bought two baby-seats for their car and two cribs for the spare room for visits.
He had also had a long talk with the young man partly responsible for giving them grandchildren before they were fifty. Theo had been properly contrite and had assured his father-in-law of his love and respect for Hermione. Who had his complete support in continuing her studies. William had rather like the boy, despite everything. A serious, intellectual and above all stable partner for Hermione.
Not like the war heroes who were keeping secrets. Margaret had always tried to get along with Harry and Ronald but they weren't the sort of friends she had wanted for her only child. Always rushing about getting into trouble, never pausing to think and with no real plans for their lives.
With Harry's shocking childhood it was excusable he didn't have structure. What sort of example had his aunt and uncle been? If the Grangers had known about the abuse they would have reported the Dursleys and made certain Harry was removed from their custody. But Ron had come from a loving home and he hadn't even gone back to finish school!
All thoughts of anything except pure joy were banished from Margaret Granger when her daughter brought her grandsons safely into the world. Thierry Rubeus Nott and Hugo Fawkes Nott loudly protested their eviction from their cosy if cramped home. Theo mopped sweat off his wife's face as she cradled their sons and thought this new future absolutely perfect.